Ticket sales for the July 3 fireworks show at Mount Rushmore that President Trump is expected to attend will be conducted through an online lottery system.
The ticket lottery was announced Thursday morning by Gov. Kristi Noem and Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen and will be administered by the National Park Service. Noem said the lottery is open to residents as well as non-residents of South Dakota.
“We’re excited that President Trump is coming to enjoy the show with us,” Noem said.
Lottery ticket sales will open at 8 a.m. Friday at recreation.gov. The lottery closes at 10 a.m. Monday, June 8. Tickets will be awarded June 12.
Maximum capacity for the event is 7,500 people in ticketed areas, with seating planned for the amphitheater as well as the gravel parking lot across the highway. For those without a direct view of the amphitheater, jumbo screens and audio will be set up so they can see the program.
Noem said 18 months of planning have gone into the event with help from the Department of the Interior, National Parks Service, South Dakota Department of Tourism, and county and local leaders.
“Now more than ever, South Dakota and our nation need something to look forward to,” Hagen said. “Millions of people from around the globe will witness this incredible spectacle.”
Despite expecting thousands of visitors, no social distancing measures will be put in place for the event as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ripple through the state. Active cases of coronavirus have remained over 1,000 since May 8 in South Dakota. There were 1,020 active cases as of Thursday, when the Department of Health reported two more coronavirus deaths, bringing the number to 64 in the state.
“We did have a plan originally for social distancing,” Noem said. “We do not anticipate doing any social distancing activities during the celebration. What I’m going to continue to ask people to do is if you’re sick, stay home. If you’re in the vulnerable population and you’re worried about the virus, then you should stay home.”
Hagen said the number of 7,500 attendees was agreed upon before COVID-19 with the input of the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and state and local officials.
“When the fireworks were at Rushmore before, we know at times they described it as a ‘free-for-all,’” Hagen said. “It was really hard to manage thousands of more people at that event. That number was agreed upon by all partners, and it is a very manageable number.”
Both Noem and Department of Health officials said they won’t re-evaluate South Dakota’s model of COVID-19 projections with the event in mind. They still stand by projections they created months ago, which show a peak infection rate in mid-June.
Joshua Clayton, state epidemiologist, said there could potentially be other peaks and waves as the virus continues to “ebb and flow” in the state.
“I do expect that we will see a wave-type infection rate continue on for many months into the future,” Noem said.
When asked about what the event will cost the state, Noem said she’s still compiling an estimate and would share that information in the coming days.
When asked about any specific costs for local officials and law enforcement, Noem said “we are looking at all mechanisms to cover those costs, and we’ve got a great partnership ongoing.”
Environmental concerns have also been raised about the event, which wasn’t hosted for 11 years prior because of glowing embers that floated down to start fires in the forest. Litter and firework debris problems were also a concern.
In 2010, the show was canceled due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic which killed millions of trees in the Black Hills National Forest. Perchlorate from the fireworks also began to contaminate the water supply in the area.
The National Park Service conducted an environmental assessment on April 28 in preparation for the event and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact. The NPS recommended the event be held subject to appropriate weather, security and wildland fire conditions.
NPS was set to work with the state, local community, highway patrol and the fireworks contractor and staff to develop the following plans:
A plan for event traffic control, visitor management and emergency response;
A plan for event staging and demobilization activities;
A wildland fire response plan;
A Unified Command incident management team and a Go/No-Go checklist.
Regarding the potential of conducting background checks on all the event attendees, Noem said “we are coordinating with the Secret Service to conduct security as is the protocol whenever the president travels.”
When asked about any protests that might spark from President Trump and Vice President Pence visiting Mount Rushmore for the fireworks, Noem said free speech is a fundamental right but people should be “grateful” the president is making the trip to be part of the program.
Noem said she hasn’t met with any of the speakers or organizers from Black Lives Matter protests from around the state, including the organizers of Sunday’s peaceful protest in Sioux Falls.
She said no one has reached out to her to meet, but if any have solutions they want to talk to her about, she wants to hear from them and help them solve any problems. Noem said Wednesday she is open to the idea of looking at police contracts and changing qualified immunity.
The $1.25 billion the state directly received from federal CARES Act funding remains unspent, meanwhile.
Noem echoed her statements from weeks prior that she is continuing to get guidance from the Treasury Department about how she can spend the money and is waiting for more flexibility to use it for revenue loss. She said she’s waiting for clear guidance before spending or allotting the money.
“We aren’t clear on how they should be distributed, and we’re holding on until we’re positive where that money should go and that it is the appropriate use,” Noem said.
Noem also said there would be no special session of the state Legislature this month to discuss the state budget.
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